Thursday, 21 April 2016

Should politics and social media mix?

         This is not the next blog I expected to be writing. The eagle-eyed and elephant-memoried of you will know that I was just starting a mine series of blogs about economic competence and the action of the tory government. This stopped ten weeks ago because of a specific event for me. I posted a link to somebody else’s blog on Facebook and because of the content of that blog a couple of people I thought of as friends (with whom I shared a particular crucible in fact) walked away from our friendship. The blog I shared used some very harsh and questionable language. It also had some extreme opinions on things. This led me to consider a number of things. It seems timely when there have been a plethora of stories about “trolls” from various political wings causing problems on social media. Is it right that a friendship can be ended over political views? If we are politically interested people, is it fair to share it with others on our social media? Are there rules we should stick to when posting on social media?
I will come on to my own mistakes in a little while, but I first wanted to set some of the background to why this has caused me to think so long and hard. The use (abuse) of social media in politics is very much here to stay, and it has been used to good and bad effect a number of times recently. Just this weekend, Jeremy Corbyn has joined snapchat (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/apr/17/jeremy-corbyn-snapchat-instagram-labour-leader ) - genuinely. I imagine you have all paused from reading this in order to go and sign up for snapchat and then find his page. I know I haven’t. But there are murkier tales abounding from the internet of social media being used to target and attack Labour MPs over the vote to bomb Syria (http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/momentum-vitriol-highlights-the-sexism-inherent-in-the-hard-left-a6761801.html ). Of course, the key sentence used is “No direct link can be proven between Momentum organisers and the keyboard warriors” but don’t let that stop you basing a story on it. Equally, the tales of CyberNats during the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign are the stuff of legend ( http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/13165014.Call_to_end_online_poison_after_cyber_attacks_on_JK_Rowling/ ).
There are a couple of similarities I wanted to pick out on these stories – firstly that they both point to a number of tweets but only reference only one, and secondly that they are linked to a particular organisation or campaign but with no evidence they have been officially sanctioned.  This is an interesting point about social media use. If you want to denigrate a group as a troll, don’t wait until they themselves have said something, simply take umbrage at something somebody else has said that is on the same side of the argument as them, and blame them for saying it. It’s effectively a “straw man” argument for the new age. That is not to in anyway argue that social media trolls don’t exist. They absolutely do and they risk poisoning political debate on social media (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/apr/13/trolls-trampling-political-discourse-abuse ) but they should not be allowed to end our use of social media.

There are also some very good examples of people thinking about social media and the impact it can have. Certainly, it has been identified as one of the reasons that a groundswell of support grew so quickly for Jeremy Corbyn during the leadership election (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/04/jezwecan-jeremy-corbyn-social-media-vote-labour-leadership ). Certainly the more piss-take accounts (remember @corbynjokes – if you missed it go there now) even seemed to help. The question is whether the social media element itself did the work, or the strength of the candidate. After all, Liz Kendall had social media too.
So as a Labour party member, surely I should be free to profess my views as and where I want on my own social media accounts. Yes, I absolutely am. However I have been incredibly na├»ve in understanding the impact it would have on other people. And yes, this has led to people removing me from their timeline. Now, the obvious bullish (dare I say masculine) response is to say “fuck it, you can’t lose real friends, only people pretending to be real friends”. I am not sure this rings true. For example, I have unfollowed and unfriended people who have started espousing right-wing and nationalistic claptrap. If you realised one of your friends was a proto-fascist you would forgive yourself for wanting nothing to do with them. It should be equally fair if you vehemently disagree with a friends postings (even when they are re-posting something written by other people) if they are writing from the left instead of the right.
In terms of my own misdemeanour, I posted on my personal facebook a blog which stated it was quite acceptable to call people who voted tory at the last election c*nts (you can probably work out that word, but I would not be sleeping in the big bed tonight if I said it correctly on my blog). Whilst the language was strong, it was nothing you wouldn’t expect to hear in a barracks or pub. The underlying intent to show that people who voted tory should reconsider their position next time round given how horrific the current government are, also still rings true for me. I was attacked on the basis of it being taken as a personal attack by proxy – that their mother had voted conservative and by extension I was calling his mother. I can understand this. Another line of attack was that (and this is not a direct quote) “I voted conservative, I don’t know enough about politics, you might be right, but admitting it makes me feel uncomfortable about myself, and social media isn’t the place for making me feel uncomfortable”.
Certainly, I can understand that, and I have learned from this, there does need to be some separation between social media friends and acquaintances and your loony-left or swivel-eyed right leaning views. I will now have 2 social media presences – one for the unexpected socialist and one for Barry. I will still cross-post though. Partly because my view of the world is a major part of who I am. But partly because I am a technological luddite who will end up doing it by accident. Hopefully that will be enough for my detractors. But I can’t promise that my loony-left-ism wont sneak out in other ways too.